British Columbia’s Premier and Opposition Leader sparred in a feisty broadcast debate Thursday about whether or not British Columbia should proceed to proportional representation in electing members of the legislature, a clash that came as voters are casting ballots in a referendum on the issue.
Through much of the 30-minute debate, NDP Premier John Horgan and BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson were talking loudly over each other, with the Premier asking voters to endorse change and Mr. Wilkinson raising concerns about the fine details of the proposals.
The Premier suggested that if voters tuned in to see the pair of them yelling at each other, they would change the channel to watch the game show, Wheel of Fortune.
“Let’s get modern. Let’s get hip,” Mr. Horgan said at one point during the brisk debate, declaring that the shift would increase engagement in politics because each vote cast would count.
To Mr. Wilkinson, he said, “I don’t understand why you’re frightened about trying something new.”
But the provincial Liberal Leader said voters are confused by their choices in the mail-in ballots they have been sent, and that the NDP has not been clear about how the proposed choices would transpose into the actual province.
“We’re not asking to experiment with our democracy,” said Mr. Wilkinson, noting that the government chose three systems for voters to consider, two of which have yet to be used anywhere.
Although he denounced Mr. Horgan for pitching a “utopia” resulting from proportional representation, Mr. Wilkinson said he was not averse to trying something new as long as it was developed and managed by a citizens assembly, a process used in a previous vote on similarly changing the B.C. political system.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver, who supports proportional representation, did not participate in the 30-minute debate, broadcast on TV and radio.
If voters decide on proportional representation during the ongoing referendum, one of three systems they choose would be enacted for provincial elections held on or after July 1, 2021.
Taking the electoral-reform issue to voters for the third time since 2005 was part of an agreement after the 2017 election that saw the BC Greens support the NDP, enabling the New Democrats to govern B.C.
In the 2017 election, the Liberals and NDP each won about 40 per cent of the popular vote while the Greens, with almost 17 per cent of the vote, ended up with only three of 87 legislature seats.
Thursday’s debate comes ahead of the Nov. 30 deadline for voters to mail in their ballots. A majority of 50 per cent plus one is needed to change the system.
Voters are being asked, Yes or No, whether they support electoral reform, and then offered the choice of three systems – Mixed Member Proportional, Dual-Member Proportional and Rural-Urban Proportional.
Mr. Horgan has said he supports proportional representation because political parties that receive 40 per cent of the votes should not get 100 per cent of political power.
The Premier has said he voted for Mixed Member Proportional in which at least 60 per cent of provincial officials would be elected by first past the post with the rest chosen from party lists and allocated depending on their party’s share of the popular vote.
MMP has been used in Germany and New Zealand. The other systems, Dual-Member Proportional and Rural-Urban Proportional, have not been used anywhere.